Overstepped bounds on game management: Federal government goes too far in attempting to limit hunting in refuges

News-Miner opinion: President Jimmy Carter remarked at the signing ceremony of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act on Dec. 2, 1980 at the White House that the act “without a doubt is one of the most important pieces of conservation legislation ever passed in this Nation.”

The late Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, among the members of Congress invited to speak after the president, had a polite but different view. He noted that neither side achieved what it wanted. “So, we’re not finished, Mr. President; we’ve just really started.”

What started that day in Washington was a battle over implementation and interpretation of the new law and the reach of the federal government into Alaska, where ANILCA established 104 million acres as various types of conservation units.

The latest skirmish in this never-ending quarrel with the federal government involves the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its proposed rules, made public Jan. 8, ending some lawful hunting activities on national refuges in the state. Alaskans should be clearly concerned — even alarmed — that these proposed rules are just more in a long list of attempts by the federal government to amend the Alaska Statehood Act.

The best course of action for a state that has grown weary of federal creep is to act swiftly rather than to rely on the court system.

And that is what Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan has done. Sen. Sullivan introduced an amendment earlier this month to prevent the Fish and Wildlife Service from finalizing its proposed refuge rules. The amendment was attached to the senator’s Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act, which the Environment and Public Works Committee approved Jan. 20.

The key issue with the Fish and Wildlife Service proposal is a fundamental difference in management approach regarding moose, caribou and deer populations. The state of Alaska manages for human consumption; the federal government does not.

Sport hunting and trapping is generally governed by the laws of the individual states, even on refuge lands, subject to some limitations.

But the state of Alaska also has an “intensive management” law that requires that moose, caribou and deer populations be managed “to achieve human consumptive use goals.” 

To that end, the state operates predator control programs on its land to boost prey populations as needed. The Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t allow predator control programs on any federal refuges in Alaska.

The federal agency’s proposed rule attacks what it sees as an effort by the state to use other authority — the state regulations for general sport hunting and trapping that apply on refuge land — to achieve the aim of managing moose, caribou and deer primarily for human use.

The proposed regulations ending some methods and periods of hunting black and brown bears, wolves and coyotes bluntly show the agency’s disdain for the Alaska way of life: “Demands for more wildlife for human harvest cannot be the sole or primary basis for predator control.”

Alaska would appear to have a winning argument that the Fish and Wildlife Service is overstepping its authority. A look at the Alaska Statehood Act shows it.

Section 6(e) of the Statehood Act says the federal government will retain administration and management of fish and wildlife in Alaska until the Interior secretary “certifies to the Congress that the Alaska State Legislature has made adequate provision for the administration, management, and conservation of said resources in the broad national interest…”

That certification came on April 27, 1959, when Interior Secretary Fred Seaton concluded in a two-page letter that “I hereby certify that the Alaska State Legislature has made adequate provision for the administration, management and conservation of the fish and wildlife resources of Alaska in the broad national interest.”

And with that, Alaska was put in charge of fish and wildlife management.

The Fish and Wildlife Services argues in its proposed rule that it is guided by the Alaska lands act of 1980. But Section 1314(a) of that very act undermines the agency’s position by stating, “Nothing in this Act is intended to enlarge or diminish the responsibility and authority of the State of Alaska for management of fish and wildlife on the public lands...,” the only exception being a priority for subsistence users in times of shortage.

The authority of the Statehood Act prevails.

The agency’s proposed rule is another in a lengthy series of attempts to erode Alaska’s fish and wildlife authority, granted at statehood.

Sen. Stevens, in his remarks 35 years ago at the signing of ANILCA at the White House, touched on the propensity of people in the Lower 48 to want Alaska governed in a such a way as to make up for their own past land management sins. “... we’ve disagreed from the point of view of the half-million people who live there 365 days a year trying to protect our rights when we see the avalanche of 225 million people who want to prevent us from making the mistakes that their predecessors made with regard to their lands.”

It is well past time that this treatment of Alaska stopped, which is why Sen. Sullivan’s pushback against this latest Fish and Wildlife Service intrusion on that authority is so important.

By:  Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Editorial Board
Source: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner